Volume Down on Virginia Roadways, While Unbelted and Speed-Related Crashes and Fatalities Increase

RICHMOND, Va. – At its June meeting, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on traffic volumes across the Commonwealth.  While fewer people have been traveling on Virginia’s roadways over the past few months, traffic volume is beginning to rebound with the easing of public health restrictions. 

On March 12, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam declared a State of Emergency in the Commonwealth due to the novel coronavirus.  Throughout the Commonwealth’s State of Emergency, as the flow of traffic decreased, speed and the lack of seat belt use have been factors in a rising number of Virginia traffic crashes and deaths.  Although the presence of fewer vehicles on the road has contributed to a decrease in overall crashes, there has been an increase in the percentage of crashes involving speed along with not wearing seat belts, and of deaths resulting from those crashes. 

“Fewer vehicles on the road during the COVID-19 crisis have contributed to a 45% decrease in all crashes,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.  “But it is of great concern to see that the number of fatalities involving both speed and unrestrained travelers has increased by 78% during this time period compared to 2019.  We are urging all motorists to drive the posted speed limit and wear seat belts.”  

According to preliminary data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), from March 13-May 21, 2020, speed-related fatalities make up about 50% of the overall fatalities, which is greater than in the same time frame in 2019 (42%).  Of the 58 speed-related fatalities recorded during this period, 41 were not wearing seat belts (70%).  Additionally, unrestrained fatalities for the calendar year through May 21 have increased approximately 15.4% compared to 2019 (120 deaths in 2020 vs. 104 in 2019). 

“Some drivers have been caught traveling at speeds higher than 100 mph,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “At a time when we are supposed to be looking out for one another, it astounds me that people aren’t wearing their seat belts and would endanger their lives and the lives of others by driving recklessly on our roadways.  Please consider how all of our actions impact each other – slow down and buckle up.” 

The Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety is sharing messaging about safe driving on social media and the Virginia Department of Transportation’s changeable message boards.  Led by the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, the team is composed of representatives from the Virginia Departments of Motor Vehicles, Health, Education, Transportation, and State Police.  The team is charged with reducing serious injuries and fatalities on Virginia’s roadways and driving change in the Commonwealth’s highway safety culture. 

The discussion on safe driving is not exclusive to Virginia.  A recent analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association reported a severe spike in speeding and other reckless driving behavior across the country during the pandemic. 

Appointed by the governor, the 17-member CTB establishes the administrative policies for Virginia’s transportation system.  The CTB allocates highway funding to specific projects, locates routes and provides funding for airports, seaports and public transportation. 

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